A classic runaround

What teachers must do to get a refund from Education Minnesota for their PAC ‘contributions.’

Each year, Education Minnesota charges teachers $25 for its political action committee (PAC) and $5 for the union’s Foundation for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. A teacher can get a refund to protect his or her constitutional right not to fund these union activities, but it’s not an easy process.

The Education Minnesota union card, now called a “Membership Renewal,” lists the deductions for the PAC and Foundation as part of union dues, but it does not offer teachers the right to “opt-out” permanently. The card requires teachers to use a different form to request any refund of dues. The request form is available only in the union’s magazine publication, Minnesota Educator, or upon limited request. Here is the fine print:

Education Minnesota Refund Request Hotline Message (Length 1:22) You have reached the Education Minnesota refund request hotline. The refund request forms for the political action committee and the Foundation for Excellence in Teaching and Learning appear in the October issue of the Minnesota Educator. This issue should be mailed to your home between the last week of September and the first week of October. To qualify for the refund, you must be an active member of Education Minnesota…. Only one set of forms may be requested per individual. You may not request multiple forms to be sent to you or request forms for others. Photocopies will not be accepted. These forms will not be available to Education Minnesota to mail out to you until the first week of October in the current school year. If you are calling to request copies please leave your name, including spelling, complete address, and the forms you wish to have sent. These forms will be mailed the first week of October. This date also applies to new members starting at the beginning of the school year. The forms must be mailed back to Education Minnesota postmarked by October 31st. You can expect your refund check to be mailed by November 30th. If you join Education Minnesota mid-year, you have 30 days from the day you signed your membership to request the forms. Please state the date you signed your membership application on this message. Once you have received your refund forms, please submit within 30 days. Thank you.

Did you follow that? All for $30? Could the teachers’ union make this refund process any more irritating?

This requirement imposes an unreasonable burden on the constitutional right of teachers not to fund a union PAC. The PAC, by the way, took in $1.8 million in 2016 and $1.4 million in 2017. And virtually all that money funds Democratic candidates or controversial groups like Planned Parenthood.

Many teachers chose to join the union but do not want to fund the PAC, for whatever reason. The legislature should require the union to collect PAC money in a separate transaction from the union card each year. Why should the burden be on busy teachers?

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Janus v. AFSCME, strongly and broadly asserted the First Amendment rights of all public employees not to support union activities without first giving their affirmative consent. While the full implications of Janus may not be known for many years, teachers and their legislators should insist that the union adopt new, customer-friendly policies that respect the rights and time of teachers.

Eliminating Education Minnesota’s PAC refund policy is a good place to begin. In fact, the union could surprise teachers this fall and rescind this policy without waiting for instructions from the legislature or a court.

A version of this commentary was published in the Wabasso Standard and Grand Rapids Herald-Review.